Café Society ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
Now in his eighties, Woody Allen is still writing and directing movies. His latest is Café Society, a bittersweet romance set in the late 1930s, among the snobs and elitists in the movie industry in Hollywood and, later in the movie, in New York among the “café society,” which means people who can stay up all night drinking liquor and dancing and socializing because they have plenty of money and don’t have to get up early and go to work the next day.
Young Bobby Dorfman of New York (played by Jesse Eisenberg) is dazzled by the glamour of Hollywood when he first arrives. Luckily he has an uncle named Phil Stern (Steve Carell), who just happens to be a high-powered agent in one of Hollywood’s dream factories. Phil Stern sets Bobby up in a job that is essentially that of errand boy, but Bobby doesn’t mind as long as it means he can be near Phil’s secretary, Veronica (Kristen Stewart). Veronica (“Vonny”) shows Bobby around Hollywood and soon he decides he is in love with her. She seems a little aloof, though. After a while she confides to Bobby that she has been having an unhappy love affair with a married man for over a year. Bobby learns by degrees that this married man is his uncle, Phil Stern. So, Bobby and his uncle are both in love with Vonny. Doesn’t that mean that somebody is going to end up disappointed?
Meanwhile, Bobby has an interesting and colorful family. His gravel-voiced mother (Jeannie Berlin) has all the clichés at her command of a Jewish mother. (When she discovers near the end of the movie that her older son is a murderer and has converted to Christianity before going to the electric chair, she says she doesn’t know which is worse.) Bobby’s older brother, Ben (Corey Stoll), is a gangster. If you have somebody you want taken care of, all you have to do is tell him. Ben and Bobby’s sister Evelyn is married to a left-wing intellectual named Leonard with communist sympathies. When Evelyn and her family are bothered by a bullying neighbor, Evelyn gets brother Ben to take care of the neighbor, but not quite in the way she anticipated.
When Vonny tells Bobby that Phil Stern is leaving his wife of twenty-five years and marrying her, Bobby goes back to New York in a disillusioned state. He decides he is a true New Yorker and that Hollywood isn’t for him.
In need of a job, he goes into the nightclub business with brother Ben, the gangster. The nightclub is a huge success and he meets and marries a pretty, blonde socialite who, ironically enough, is also named Veronica. He believes he is happy until Vonny from Hollywood shows up with her husband Phil Stern. It seems she wants to pick up with Bobby where they left off. Is he still enough in love with her to cheat on his wife?
Woody Allen provides off-screen narration in Café Society, as he did in Radio Days (my favorite Woody movie) in 1987. He is still writing some of the best dialogue in movies (you’d know it was his just by listening to the rhythms) and still touching on some of the familiar themes of family, romance, infidelity, disillusionment, punishment (or lack of it in a godless universe) and existentialism. And, as always, he finds a romanticism in the past that just doesn’t exist in the present.
Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp